[personal profile] lhexa

A common element in criticism of academic philosophy is that it deeply misunderstands philosophy or academia. However, what follows is not a criticism; I wish rather to explore my lack of understanding. When you understand or misunderstand something, the facts come together; but I... No. This will not be a coherent or well-written entry. Might as well get on with it.

It seems almost farcical that philosophy departments should exist, but then, physics departments exist too. Physics professors study the largest and the smallest things, plus the fastest and the slowest; who in their right mind would stick such subjects together? It's rather the same with philosophy professors.

I think you can ask a person what philosophy is today, and thereby find out exactly how the world has failed that person.

All popular fields have harsh introductory courses, designed to discourage those with no care for the subject. And it's universally true of these courses, that the learning you do in them is nothing like the learning you do in advanced courses, though the topics might be the same. I was able to skip most of the introductory philosophy classes.

Ouroborus was cut at just the right place, and lost both head and tail; what remained?

At one point Raki suggested to me that academic philosophy was too recursive, but I replied that it wasn't recursive enough.

Some people face up to their demons, and are then savaged by them.

No one is as well-versed in intellectual deceit as an academic philosopher. Just look at how often an academic philosopher leads in, or rather misleads in, with a conditional whose antecedent is false. When I was at Chicago I fantasized about writing a book called "How to Deceive", which was to be a very honest book.

But as the people with the most knowledge of deceit, they're the people who most consistently avoid it; while the philosophy department contains philosophers, every other humanities and social-sciences department contains sophists... though I speak of their ambitious members.

It has been said, and it is true, that you can study anything you want as a professor of philosophy.

To approach philosophy cheerfully was transfiguring for Nietzsche. The usual pattern is to approach philosophical matters with gravitas, but to do physics giddily, after the difficult part (surviving physics or philosophy instruction) is over. But my tendency has been to create and discuss philosophical ideas playfully, and regard physics knowledge as something awe-inspiring. To calculate a set of eigenvalues and eigenvectors is a profoundly serious task to me, even after it comes easily. Cheerfulness isn't something that can transfigure me.

When students of philosophy are asked why philosophy is important, they often give grandiose but inadequate answers. But physics students and teachers give similarly grandiose -- and similarly inadequate -- answers, and they're never called out for it.

I lost the ability to ramble (note that this word has a special, precise meaning to me) at some point, while studying philosophy at the University of Chicago. I recall mustering the courage to show my last ramble, the one on emotions, to a couple of professors (one of whom had been very helpful with previous rambles). I remember it making me so scared that I almost threw up, when I was waiting for my appointment to talk to one of them about it.

My work in philosophy is rather fearful, rather vulpine, since there are so many things that can harm it.

One thing nearly always lacking in academic philosophy is a fully developed self-awareness, and a full awareness of what one's work is. In the 20th century, I can only recall finding it in a few professors of philosophy (Cavell, Austin, Wittgenstein, and maybe Russell), and lacking elsewhere, whereas in every other field the academics know exactly what it is they're doing, and why they're doing it.

My own philosophy professors were the wittiest and most erudite of my instructors; they would also have the title of best teachers, had I not met Dr. McEnerney, a writing instructor with a shelf of philosophy. I find nothing more fascinating than to find someone with an ability that completely escapes me, and one professor of mine, who favors analytic philosophy, gave the most stunning example of this to date, when, without my having knowingly given any evidence of this familiar trait, he named me a mystic.

Back when I drew, blank paper... well, that's a subject for a later entry. Let it suffice to say my experiences with academic philosophy in some ways paralleled those with art, and that my experiences with art left me convinced that to earnestly try to become an artist would destroy me. I've dallied enough: time to relate the events that finally convinced me I was unfit for academia. Well after my hospitalizations, while I was arranging how I would return to Chicago and finish my undergraduate education, I decided to write an essay on vagueness. I had thought about the matter extensively and singled out, accurately, what had made my previous class papers so pointless and obtuse. I accumulated notes, read many essays on the subject, and composed drafts for some two or three months. What I produced was worse than mediocre; it read like a mockery of a philosophy essay. When I stopped devising ideas and started pulling ideas together instead, the theory of vagueness that I created, revised, and recreated many times, in an attempt to produce something receptive to the needs and demands of philosophy professors, something valuable to them, proved to me what I would otherwise have learned in the long years of graduate study, that I am worthless to academic philosophy.

I eventually dropped the goal, along with my plans to return to the University of Chicago. I felt nothing about it for a long period afterwards, but I suppose that's natural. After months of hospitals and medication, I hadn't felt defeated, or even subdued. But when I finally gained my feet, and advanced confidentally in the direction of the life which I had imagined, I met with a defeat unexpected in common hours.

Although I now pursue physics as a career (only a career, mind you), my evasion can't last forever. Every good university has a philosophy department.



January 2012

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